If you want to trace its lineage all the way back you wind up, cinematically speaking at least, at 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, but The Furies, the debut feature from writer and director Tony D’Aquino really takes its cues from Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 Ozploitation classic Turkey Shoot and Eli Roth’s survival horror ur-example 2006 Hostel. Book Week’s Airlie Dodds is Kayla, the rebellious woman who finds herself kidnapped dumped in a remote stretch of bushland, and – alongside a host of other women – hunted by a gaggle of masked marauders who look like the fish Slipknot reject. Much bodily dismemberment ensues.
For gorehounds, that’s the drawcard. Intestines spill from a ruptured torso in the first few minutes of The Furies, and each subsequent burst of uber-violence seeks to top the last, with much spurting blood and torn latex flesh courtesy of special effects house Scarecow Studios. It’s impressive stuff – it’s rare for someone like to blurt out a curse at the sight of something they’ve genuinely not seen before, but one memorable kill is almost certainly new to the annals of on screen abuse.
And yeah, it is pretty hard going – The Furies pulls very few punches, and there are stretches where you might wonder if this is just a fairly static collection of scenes where big, beefy, anonymous blokes brutalise screaming women. There’s a nasty edge to D’Aquino’s film, but luckily later developments shade the proceedings with enough nuance and complexity to steer us away from “distasteful” and into “challenging” territory.
Firstly, we have a cast of quickly defined but well-rounded women characters, played by Kaitlyn Boye, Taylor Ferguson, Harriet Davies, and Linda Ngo, who have all found themselves in the same brutal boat as Kayla and some of whom have figured out that their best chance for survival might be using their fellow captives as bait. Ngo’s Rose, on the other hand, is a childlike, sheltered waif, who awakens protective feelings in Kayla. In true “final girl” style Kayla resolves to get herself and her charge our of their predicament by any means necessary – and seeing as this is a gleefully gory horror flick, those means are spectacularly gruesome.
Secondly, it quickly becomes apparent that this stalk ‘n’ kill safari is being staged for clicks and hits, with an audience of voyeuristic sadists tuning in from home to watch the carnage unfold. While not as spot-on an in-film criticism of horror fandom as found in say, The Cabin in the Woods, this wrinkle at least raises the point, alluding to queasy questions about the audience’s complicity in violent misogynist spectacle. A similar narrative element came into play in the fellow recent low budget Australian genre offering Below – there must be something in the water.
There are a couple of fumbles. An early argument between Kayla and her best friend, Maddie (Ebony Vagulans), rings false, and given that it’s our introduction to our protagonist, threatens to hobble the whole affair before we even begin. There’s a lift from Neill Marshall’s superb 2005 film, The Descent (another film that pits an all-female cast against bloodthirsty horrors), that’s just a little too obvious. And the character element of Kayla’s epilepsy, which is prone to rendering her unconscious, is used a little too often to drop her out of the storyline so things can occur without her knowledge. That last is a bit of a borderline case; letting the audience know something the characters don’t is a suspense trick right out of the Hitchcock playbook, but it’s just a touch too convenient here.
But those are forgivable faults. Working from an obviously limited budget, D’Aquino and his team have nonetheless crafted a punchy, rollicking, blood-soaked slasher that genre fans will enjoy. There’s something almost minimalist in the way the film eschews all but the most essential elements of narrative, character, and even production design to give us what it can, putting everything into its big signature moments and gore gags and pretty much letting the audience colour in around the central image. The violence against women means its not for everyone, but the film itself seems perfectly aware of and comfortable with that. This is an unapologetic old school auto-da-fé, and I’m keen to see what D’Aquino can do with more resources at his disposal.
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